I live on a tropical island called Spearingo Islands, a nation made up of three small pieces of land near the equator. We are governed by democracy, constantly reminded to embrace the diversity of colours which makes us unique. Or… well, what we think made us unique. We walk down the streets everyday of our lives, looking at people coming from different backgrounds, having migrated here to earn a living, to raise the family members they loved. In school I often look at the students from different countries, wondering how it is like to leave home for a few months or even a few years. Don’t they ever miss their families? I can’t live past a week without Dad.
Dad has been my only childhood hero, even till today. I never knew who else existed in my family and I have never met a distant relative before at all. Dad is the only one who brought me up. I have a dream of starting a business for him. He will be the boss and I will be his assistant. That sounds like a pretty good idea, especially since Dad wants to start his own coffeeshop. Whenever he took me out to play, we’d race to see who could climb trees the fastest. He always lets me win. He was a good cook too and he was excellent at perfecting half-boiled eggs, often served with a steaming cup of tea or coffee and some buttered toast. That was my breakfast every morning ever since I could remember. In fact I need to have this breakfast every morning together with Dad before he heads off to work and I, to school.
I attend the Spearingo National College, the first college set up on the island by a few Chinese businessmen. On Spearingo Islands, the first twenty years of our lives are pretty much set. After we pass the stage of useless bawling baby dolls, we have to learn how to read, write and do arithmetic. Although the government makes compulsory education up to the age of twelve, the society makes it unavoidable for us to get our college degrees before we can get a decent job. I study English, although I ain’t completely sure that it can give me a head start in starting a business for Dad. But my arithmetic and accounting scores aren’t good enough to get me into the business school. I had to make do with what I have and perhaps, get a good enough score to transfer. Here, I became a playwright for my school’s drama club last year, headed by a tyrannical president who is currently screaming my name from the back of the corridor right now.
“Hey Clare!” This is perhaps the fifth time he is calling me and I wonder if he has the brains to realise that I am ignoring him on purpose. “Clare Sim!”
A hard smack comes down on my shoulder. My backpack slides and hits the floor.
“Oi!” I yell, turning to find myself staring into the eager brown eyes of his.
“Didn’t you hear me call out to you?” Jim asks, his hands smoothing out his bleached blonde faux hawk.
“Yes.” I sniff. “Make it quick.”
“We need you at the rehearsals tomorrow.”
“You want me at the rehearsals tomorrow,” I correct him. “Jim, we’ve had this conversation before. I sit there for hours doing nothing! I do not have to be there!”
“And I have said this many times, we need the opinion of the scriptwriter!”
“And tell me when have you listened to anything I’ve said?” I roll my eyes, walking away from him. “Go ahead with whatever you want. Leave me alone!”
“You’d better come if you want your points to stay on in the halls!”
In Spearingo National College, we have to earn points in order to qualify for the dormitories. These points come from being involved in school activities. Theatre is one of mine and dance is another. I can earn points for both, but because Jim has been forcing me to go for theatre rehearsals, I hardly have the time to go for dance practices and performances and hence can barely earn points from dance. What he said is true and we both know it. Unwilling to acknowledge it, I look straight and stalk off.
“Seven tomorrow night!” he calls after me.
I let my Converse sneakers hit the floor as hard as they can with every step, blowing my bangs out of my eyes as I walk. I have a report due on Thursday, in two days’ time, dance practice tonight and have to go for rehearsals tomorrow. Darn it. I may have to skip some sleep tonight. Maybe I can start with the report in one of the lectures later.
The day whirls by and I have no idea where all the time has gone. In no time at all I am already warming up in the school’s dance studio and have barely made any progress on the report. It is already eight in the evening and I have not even had dinner. Only two other girls are in the dance studio with me and the rest are already very late.
“Where are they?” Jessica asks, her arms outstretched to braid her hair down her back.
I snigger as I stretch, checking out my short brown hair in the mirror. Jessica always has the shrill in her voice which makes her sound like she has an invisible tank of helium on her back and she breathes through it permanently. She also has rainbow and blonde streaks in her hair which makes her look like the Nyaan Cat pelting through space whenever she prances around the room.
The short reply comes from Tiffany, a petite girl with a gentle face. When she smiles, dimples appear on her cheeks. She is a pretty quiet girl and loves to sit in one corner to read.
Fifteen minutes later we are restless. I try to make a call to our dance president but there is no reception in my cell phone. Annoyed, I bring my phone out of the dance studio. The studio is up on a small, isolated hill away from the main buildings of the school. Usually, we have to climb up a steep slope to get there, or else we can hitch a ride with any of the dance members who drives. Normally, they park their cars at the back of the studio but there are no cars in sight today. The streetlamps are flickering dim for some reason and there is still no signal. I walk further down the slope, hoping to get a stronger signal strength as I near the main buildings.
The wind blows and I draw my jacket closer. It is getting late, and cold. I could have showered and be doing my report in my room, probably sharing a packet of prawn crackers with my roommate, Emma. I walk, blowing bangs out of my eyes again and muttering things under my breath.
“What is this? Smart phone my ass. No signal half the time… It’s already twenty minutes past eight… What’s the point of practicing now when it’s so late already. I could be-“
I stop short, goosebumps erupting on my skin. The scream had come from somewhere behind me, from the dance studio. I am already halfway down the hill and I can’t see what is going on up there. I am pretty sure from that high-pitched quality of the scream that it belongs to Jessica. The studio lamp has gone out and as I stare at the studio, contemplating what to do, the streetlamps around me snuff out.
I swallow hard and bite my lip. The bangs fall back into place, poking my eyes but I leave them there. There is no one around me to accompany me back up that hill to the studio. My belongings are still in there, but at least I have my phone with me. Should I run? But Jessica sounded like she needed help. I can’t leave her there. What happened to Tiffany? Why didn’t she come running out to get me?
My thoughts sway from them to the blinking lights of the main buildings in the distance. Something is very wrong. I creep back up the hill as slowly as I can until I hear a low, retching noise. A strong stench reaches my nostrils. It smells terribly like vomit. The air now has a stinging quality which prickles my skin. I zip up my jacket and advance up the slope until I hear the shuffling of feet.
I squint my eyes to look into the darkness ahead of me. There are shadows and it seems like there is a crowd in the dance studio. But no one has come up the slope when I am out there and it is the only way in. Unless, of course, it is a prank?
I slow down as I near the studio, breathing heavily and sweating in this cool night. There is a crack as my Converse stepped on a small, dried branch on the tarred floor.
The shadows in the room stop moving for a second. Then another loud retching startles the entire crowd to move in my direction, the foul smell growing stronger. Hastily, I scramble up the nearest tree I can find, thankful for the practice Dad had put me through when I was little. I climb past the first branch, the second and up the third.
A strange horde of human-like creatures charge towards where I had stepped on the branch, their arms flailing. What exactly are those things? I squint hard and hold my breath. Whatever those shadows are, I am certain they aren’t friendly. They came to an abrupt stop around the branch, their retching growing slower, their arms stop flailing. They lumber around the area slowly. I don’t want to get down from the tree with them around, but how long do I have to wait till they are gone?
A loud revving of engine pierce through the silent night, the beams from the headlamps appeared up the slope. A red convertible shot uphill and slowed to a stop, its hood down. It is Johanna, our dance president. Everything in the darkness lights up and the sight that greets me nearly throws me out of my hiding place.
The shadows belong to a mob of decaying humans, their skin wrinkled grey and rotting. They retch constantly and their eyelids, noses and lips are turned inside out. Their eyeballs roll to the back of their eyes and saliva drip out of their mouths. I stuff my fist in my mouth to stop myself from screaming, but my cell phone fall out of my hands and tumble down the tree.
I am sure those repulsive monsters would have heard it, but they are already charging towards the car in a stampede, arms thrashing. Two others thunder out from the studio to join the mob – one of them petite and the other has rainbow hair braided down its back.
“No way,” I whisper as I freeze on the spot, petrified.
I watch as the foul creatures drag my screaming dance president out of the car and crowd around her. I can slowly make out the distinctive features of each and every one of my dance troupe. What the fuck happened?
Endless shrieks of pain broke the chilled silence of the night. I search my mind furiously to think of a way to help Johanna, but I am seriously outnumbered and they are too fast. What are they doing to her?
Abruptly, the chaos stops and the shrieking dies down, just as quickly as it had come. The creatures began lumbering around as though nothing had happened. Shifting out of the way of the headlamps, they linger around in the shadows. Johanna is lying on the floor, bloodied, panting, and shaking. About a minute later, she starts retching: once, twice and then a third time. Her cherubic features begins distorting as her eyelids, nose and lips turn inside out. Then the transformation stops. She lies on the spot, panting and retching for a few seconds, then she, too, gets up and creeps into the shadows.
I remove my fist from my mouth and notice that, for the first time, tears are streaming down my cheeks, smearing my makeup. Clinging onto the tree branch, I pray for it to hold my weight until morning when I am sure they will be gone. There is no way for me to check for the time undetected when my phone is tucked under the tree. But deducing from when I had last checked, I am sure that the night is still early. Too early.
Written by: Ms. Auby Sparksfield
Edited by: Isaac Tan
The Final Evolution © 2013 by Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.